It’s a band formed in the most extraordinary circumstance. Former Lostprophets lead singer Ian Watkins was jailed in December 2013 after he admitted to a series of child sex offences, including the attempted rape of a baby. Silent since his arrest a year earlier, his bandmates made a public announcement on Facebook as Watkins’ 35-year sentence was announced.
Our personal relationships with him had deteriorated in recent years to a point that working together was a constant, miserable challenge…
We never imagined him capable of behaviour of the type he has now admitted…
We are heartbroken, angry, and disgusted at what has been revealed. This is something that will haunt us for the rest of our lives…
It wasn’t just Watkins who went down. The entire 15-year legacy of Lostprophets went with him. Their music, their photos, their merchandise: everything associated with the Welsh group became instantly poisonous and detestable. HMV removed their albums from their shelves. Paving stones featuring their lyrics in their hometown of Pontypridd were removed. They deleted their website, Facebook page and Twitter.
In the aftermath of his guilty plea, NME was contacted by hundreds of fans expressing their dismay, disappointment and disgust with his actions. All were coming to terms with the news. They were close to the band. But, one consistent pattern emerged in their correspondence: support and sympathy for the remaining members of the group.
Try and imagine how Lee Gaze, Luke Johnson, Mike Lewis, Jamie Oliver, and Stuart Richardson felt. After all, whether you were a fan of Lostprophets or not, the remaining members were professional musicians and songwriters. Regularly appearing on magazine covers, festival main stages and daytime radio. If they weren’t making music, what would they do? Guitarist Gaze began working on a coffee stand in Soho, according to a Sunday Times feature, while the others in the band pondered their futures, still reeling from the shock of discovering their childhood friend, with whom they’d built a sizeable rock empire, had been living a secret life under their noses.
The result is No Devotion, a totally new outfit formed with vocalist Geoff Rickly, former singer with post-hardcore band Thursday. Rickly’s not just joined them, he’s releasing their first song on his label (hear it above). Billboard reports that he wanted to make a documentary about the experience and emotions the ex-members were going through, and ended up becoming part of the band.
Now, the first piece of their music has arrived. The track, ‘Stay’, opens like The Killers, before morphing into something which sounds like My Chemical Romance, The Smashing Pumpkins or Head Automatica. Lyrically, the song’s got nothing to do with Watkins. It’s not angry, it’s not bitter, it’s a decent pop-rock song, with the lyrics written by Rickly about a recent relationship breakdown.
How does he feel, effectively replacing Watkins, albeit under a new banner? “I had always liked these guys in passing: they’re funny and self-aware,” he’s said. “I didn’t think it was fair, what was happening to them. And, well, the music was too good to pass up.” They’ll play their first gigs together around the UK later this month.
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The new track debuted on BBC Radio 1’s Rock Show on Monday night (June 30). It remains to be seen how some DJs will feel about playing it. It’s not like people will be able to hide behind the fact it’s three minutes of unplayable snarl. It’s mainstream rock. It’s as pop as Lostprophets. “There ain’t nothing I can do to make you stay,” goes its breezy chorus.
And, reaction from fans to it has been broadly positive:
No Devotion have signalled their intention already to release further material, with an album apparently on the horizon, but big questions remain. Surely on tour they won’t play any Lostprophets material? How is the industry going to feel about talking about this new band? Will radio play it? There won’t be a review, interview or story written about them where Watkins isn’t referenced. What’s it going to be like out on the touring circuit for the band?
In their Sunday Times interview, guitarist Mike Lewis indicated that would be the only time they talk about Watkins. They’re determined to bury the past, and move on. And good luck to them: whatever you make of No Devotion’s track, it’s difficult not to admire their bravery in picking themselves back up and getting right back into the rehearsal room. “We just wrote music. I didn’t know if anyone would ever want to hear it, I didn’t know if anyone ever would hear it,” offers bassist Stuart Richardson in an explanation of this new project. “We didn’t know what else to do.”